World Heritage Convention

The World Heritage Convention is one of the most important global conservation instruments

Created in 1972, the primary mission of the Convention is to identify and protect the world's natural and cultural heritage considered to be of Outstanding Universal Value.

It embodies a visionary idea – that some places are so important that their protection is not only the responsibility of a single nation, but is also the duty of the international community as a whole; and not only for this generation, but for all those to come.

It is governed by the World Heritage Committee supported by the UNESCO World Heritage Centre, the secretariat for the Convention, and three technical advisory bodies to the Committee: IUCN is the Advisory Body on natural heritage, evaluating sites that are nominated and in accordance with the relevant Convention criteria 7 - 10:

7. to contain superlative natural phenomena or areas of exceptional natural beauty and aesthetic importance;

8. to be outstanding examples representing major stages of earth's history, including the record of life, significant on-going geological processes in the development of landforms, or significant geomorphic or physiographic features;

9. to be outstanding examples representing significant on-going ecological and biological processes in the evolution and development of terrestrial, fresh water, coastal and marine ecosystems and communities of plants and animals;

10. to contain the most important and significant natural habitats for in-situ conservation of biological diversity, including those containing threatened species of outstanding universal value from the point of view of science or conservation.

For more information on the World Heritage Convention, visit the UNESCO World Heritage Centre website.

World Heritage success stories

Royal Chitwan National Park in Nepal. This Park provides refuge for about 400 greater one-horned rhinoceros characteristic of South Asia. The World Heritage Committee, in the early 1990s, questioned the findings of the environmental impact assessment of the proposed Rapti River Diversion Project. The Asian Development Bank and the Government of Nepal revised the assessment and found that the River Diversion project would threaten riparian habitats critical to the rhino inside Royal Chitwan. The project was thus abandoned and this World Heritage Site was saved for the benefit of future generations.

Whale Sanctuary of El Vizcaino in Mexico. In 1999, the World Heritage community campaigned against a plan for enlarging an existing salt factory to commercial scale in Laguna San Ignacio in El Vizcaino Bay, the last pristine reproduction lagoon for the Pacific grey whale. The UNESCO World Heritage Committee forewarned the Mexican Government of the threats posed to the marine and terrestrial ecosystems, the grey whales as key species as well as the overall integrity of this World Heritage site by locating saltworks inside the Sanctuary. As a result, the Mexican Government refused permission for the saltworks in March 2000.

Mount Kenya National Park/Natural Forest in Kenya. The nomination of this site was first referred back to the State Party on the basis of findings during the evaluation that suggested there were serious threats to the site, primarily illegal logging and marijuana cultivation inside the Park. The State Party responded with an action plan which included provision of additional vehicles, increased patrols, community awareness projects, training of forest guards and a review of the policy affecting the adjacent forest reserve. Based on these assurances, the Committee inscribed the site in 1997. Today, some threats still remain but there has been significant progress in the management of the site.